Childcare Options in Walt Disney World

Ready for a confession?  Even on a family vacation, sometimes I need a break from my children.  There are times when my husband and I want to spend some child-free time together in the parks or go to a restaurant that’s less than kid-friendly.  When these times come up, I am grateful that Disney offers childcare centers and baby-sitters.
 When I mention using Disney childcare, I’m often met with disbelief from family and friends that I’m allowing a stranger to watch my children.  However, all childcare cast members for the in-room baby-sitting are rigorously vetted and have an impressive list of qualifications, including:

  • are at least 18 years of age
  • are certified in child/infant CPR and basic first aid
  • are trained by Kid’s Nite Out & must complete Walt Disney World “Traditions”
  • have previous childcare or teaching experience
  • are thoroughly interviewed, screened, references are checked, and criminal background checks are performed
  • Many of our professional caregivers possess advanced training, a state teaching certificate or a CDA certificate.

In Room Baby-Sitting

Offered by Kid’s Nite Out, in room baby sitting services are available from 8am to 9pm daily.  While not employed by Disney World exactly, this service is the recommended service of Walt Disney World.  Rates are as follows:

  • 1 Child – $18 per hour
  • 2 Children – $21 per hour
  • 3 Children – $24 per hour
  • 4 Children – $26 per hour

All rates are hourly based and there is a four (4) hour minimum charge. Caregiver transportation fee is $10.00.  Interested in booking an in room sitter?  They may be reached at 1-800-696-8105.

Children’s Activity Centers

Disney World also offers four activity centers in various resorts.  They are:

Simba’s Clubhouse in Animal Kingdom Lodge

Sandcastle Club in Beach Club Resort

Lilo’s Playhouse in the Polynesian

Camp Dolphin in the Dolphin Resort


My children have personally visited Simba’s Cubhouse and Lilo’s Playhouse.  They will tell you that they prefer Lilo’s Playhouse, I’m assuming because it is a bit larger with a few more activities.  During their stays, activities have included dress-up, coloring, baking classes, science experiments and character visits!  My daughter still talks about the dance party with Captain Hook and Mr. Smee!

My children beg to attend these Children’s Centers!  They are packed full of fun and activities and the classic Disney customer service and kindness.  I never once worried about their well-being or if they were bored.

A few things to keep in mind about the Children’s Centers

  • Children must be 3 to 12 years old and fully potty-trained. No pull-ups allowed.
  • Rates vary by location. For Simba’s Cubhouse, an hourly rate of $15 is charged per child, with a 2-hour minimum. For Lilo’s Playhouse and Sandcastle Club, a flat rate of $55 is charged per child for the duration of the evening.
  • Dinner is included in the cost of the service and parents can order kid-friendly fare for their children at check-in. Mealtimes are approximate, with dinner served at 6:00 PM and snacks at 10:00 PM. Given prior notice, the Children’s Activity Centers can accommodate children with special dietary needs. No outside food, please.
  • Open from 4:30pm to 12:00am daily.
  • Advance reservations are recommended for all locations. Reservations can be made up to 180 days prior to your arrival at the Resort. Same day walk-ins are welcome based on availability.
  • Call (407) WDW-DINE for reservations.

Though not advertised, we received a 10% annual passholder discount when we requested it.

Camp Dolphin is run a bit differently:

  • Children must be 4 to 12 years old and fully potty trained.  No pull ups are allowed.
  • An hourly rate of $15 per child with a 2 hour minimum.
  • Open from 5:00pm to 12:00am daily.
  • Advance reservations are required for Camp Dolphin. Reservations can be made up to 180 days prior to your arrival at the Resort.
  • Call (407) 934-4241 for reservations.

 

 

 

Strategy Guide for Pandora – The World of Avatar

On May 27th, Walt Disney World opened its newest, and highly anticipated, land in Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  Pandora – The World of Avatar is an immersive land, located beyond Tiffin’s and the Nomad Lounge and is based on James Cameron’s Avatar movie series.  Walking into Pandora is truly like being transported to that other planet.

First, I’ll talk about the ins and outs of Pandora with tips and tricks on how to experience the best the land has to offer with the shortest wait times.

    Despite the awe that this land may inspire in you, you may be surprised at its relatively small size.

Current map of Animal Kingdom
Map of Pandora

Inside Pandora, you will find 2 new attractions, Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey, in addition to Wind Traders and Colors of Mo’ara, souvenir shops, Pongu Pongu, a kiosk for unique drinks and snacks, and Sati’li Canteen, a quick service restaurant.

Flight of Passage is a screen-based attraction similar to Soarin’ in Epcot.  Though I often describe it as Soarin’ x 10.  For this attraction, you mount a Banshee and are connected to an Avatar to experience flight as a Na’vi would on Pandora.  You’ll experience thrilling drops and turns, while feeling the Banshee “breathe” under your legs.


 The queue for Flight of Passage is nothing short of amazing.  In the outside queue, you get a unique view and perspective of the Floating Mountains.  Inside, you transition from ancient Na’vi cave paintings to industrialized and scientific research experiments.

 The real centerpiece of this queue is the avatar animatronic.  Watching the avatar float with real, lifelike movements is breathtaking and nearly worth the price of admission itself.

The height requirement for this attraction is 44″.  It is also easily the cornerstone of the land itself, so you can expect long lines.  Fastpass+ highly recommended.

Na’vi River Journey is a dark, boat ride attraction suitable for all ages.  While not as exciting as Flight of Passage, it is enjoyable for the whole family.

   It is also beautiful!  The bioluminescence is on full display.   The Shaman of Songs ends your journey, and is the most impressive animatronic I have ever seen.  The movements are so fluid and lifelike, it may cause you to take a second (or third, or fourth) look.  Be warned, her song is an ear worm, and will be stuck in your head for days!

Onto the food!

Menu from Satu’li Canteen
Cheeseburger pods with veggie chips, slaw and boba balls
Build Your Own bowl
Chocolate Cake
Blueberry Cream Cheese Mousse


I really enjoy this restaurant.  I’ve eaten as much off of the menu as I could and there really has not been an item that I didn’t enjoy.  My only complaint would be the veggie chips.  They’ve been inconsistent during the times we’ve eaten here, sometimes crispy and fresh, and other times a little limp and soggy.

Outdoor seating at Satu’li Canteen
Indoor seating at Satu’li Canteen

However, there are so many other reasons to give this restaurant a try.  The theming is, of course, ridiculously good.  It has plenty of indoor and covered outdoor seating.  Satu’li Canteen is also the founding restaurant for mobile ordering, which is more convenient than I could ever say.  For a family with small children, being able to order from your seat, having one member of your party collect the food while the other stays with the kids is a lifesaver.

Night Blossom from Pongu Pongu

Pongu Pongu offers quick drinks and snacks.  The Night Blossom is the non-alcoholic offering here, and we were not impressed.  Overly sweet, the large straw (necessary for the Passion Fruit boba balls) was awkward, and overall it was just not our favorite thing.  This is located right outside the Satu’li Canteen and has access to the large, covered seating.

So if you’ve made it this far, you know it’s time for some strategy.  Crowds in Pandora have not trended toward the ebb and flow of other areas in the Disney World parks, as it is still fairly new it is quite busy from park open to park close.  My suggested plan is this:  You are only allowed to Fastpass+ one Pandora attraction, and the clear winner for this is Flight of Passage.  However, this can be very difficult to obtain, even bright and early at the 60 day mark.  As you are planning your trip itinerary, I suggest putting your Animal Kingdom day toward the end of your trip to better your chances of getting that Fastpass.  If you are able to get that Fastpass, and are lucky enough to have times to choose from, I would further suggest making your fastpass+ reservation for after dark.  This guarantees you entrance into Pandora if it hits capacity, and entrance into Flight of Passage without 3+ hour waits.  Late in the evening, I found that Flight of Passage was closed to all guests excluding Fastpass, and stand by only open to resort guests utilizing extra magic hours.

If Na’vi River Journey is the only Fastpass+ you can get, go ahead and get it (for the evening hours so you don’t miss out on all the beautiful bioluminescence) and arrive at Animal Kingdom as early as you can stand to hit Flight of Passage first thing in the morning.  You aren’t guaranteed a “no-wait” experience with this strategy, but our experience was around 45 minutes.

Happy touring!

Height Requirements for Every Attraction in Walt Disney World

While Disney World is known for being inclusive and family friendly, there are attractions that are not appropriate, or safe, for little ones.  To ensure the utmost safety of all guests, Disney has height requirements for specific attractions. If the attraction you are curious about is not listed below, Disney lists it as “any height” and all are welcome to ride.

In Magic Kingdom, the attractions include:

Tomorrowland Speedway (32″)

Barnstormer (35″)

Seven Dwarves Mine Train (38″)

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (40″)

Splash Mountain (40″)

Space Mountain (44″)

In Animal Kingdom, the attractions include:

Kali River Rapids (38″)

DINOSAUR (40″)

Expedition Everest (44″)

Avatar Flight of Passage (44″)

Primeval Whirl (48″)

In Hollywood Studios, the attractions include:

Star Tours (40″)

Tower of Terror (40″)

Rock n Roller Coaster (48″)

In Epcot, the attractions include:

Soarin’ (40″)

Test Track (40″)

Mission SPACE (40″ – green, 44″ – orange)

Be sure to check out my previous blog post on Rider Swap to see how to maximize everyone’s experience.

Attraction Spotlight: Gran Fiesta Tour with the Three Caballeros

 Located inside the Mexican Pavillion, the Gran Fiesta Tour is a gentle boat ride through the sights of Mexico along with the three feathered friends, including Donald.

Donald could pop up anywhere, climbing Mayan pyramid steps in Chichen Itza, diving off a cliff in Acapulco or even disguised as a piñata! José Carioca and Panchito are in hot pursuit on their magical flying serape, treating you to vistas of ancient and modern Mexico on their merry chase.

I love this attractions for several reasons.  One, my kids love it, always a big indicator as to whether we’ll repeat any attraction.  Donald’s antics make them laugh and the animatronics are reminiscent of It’s a Small World.  Two, it’s indoors.  In a park as hot and with as little shade as Epcot, a nice, cool ride is a great break during a tour around the World Showcase.  Three, it’s neat to see the inside of La Hacienda de San Angel, the Table Service located inside the pavilion.  My daughter loved calmly floating by all the diners. Next time you need a quick break, take a stop inside of the Mexico Pavilion and enjoy Donald and his friends!  You may even get a little surprise at the end of your journey.

How to Trade with the Jawas in Star Wars Launch Bay

Unscripted character moments in Disney World are some of my favorite things.  Recently, we visited Disney’s Hollywood Studios and my daughter had the opportunity to “trade” with the Jawas located in Star Wars Launch Bay.

If you aren’t a giant Star Wars nerd like myself, the Jawas are a pygmy rodent-like race inhabiting the desert planet of Tatooine. They are hardworking people who work as scavengers and tinkers, picking up discarded or broken machinery and fixing it up for sale.  In the Launch Bay, they are located between the Chewbacca/Kylo Ren meet and greet and the Cargo Bay.  They free wander, and do not have an official Photopass Photographer.  They are just the neatest little guys, who may come up and take a look at your bracelet, sunglasses or start poking around some of the exhibits.

I knew that you could offer the Jawas something to “trade”, but I’d never really given it much thought, however on a recent trip a fellow guest offered my daughter some gemstones and asked her if she wanted to try it out for herself.

 Melanie offered the Jawa her gemstones. The Jawas discussed with each other whether her offering was worthy. It was!  In exchange, she was given a small toy.  She was delighted to have done this!

Be sure to be ready with your own camera, as there is very little about this that appears planned or scripted, but it’s such a fun experience!

 

Attraction Spotlight: Star Wars Launch Bay

Located in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the Star Wars Launch Bay is a geek’s dream.  Inside the unassuming theater you’ll find a short film, character meet and greets, a museum of sorts of interesting Star Wars memorabilia, and a collectible store where you can purchase some of the memorabilia or design your own phone case.

At Star Wars Launch Bay Theater, you can connect with the passion and excitement of the brilliant minds who bring the Star Wars galaxy to life.

Step inside this stellar screening room and view a stirring 10-minute film celebrating the extraordinary creation of Star Wars. Running continuously throughout the day, this insightful movie includes exclusive interviews with the directors, writers, producers and other key players responsible for one of the most popular film series of all time.

The character meet and greets are my favorite part of the launch bay.  In Disney World, you have the chance to meet Chewbacca and Kylo Ren.

 Kylo is actually really scary.   Chewbacca is fabulous!  After we took this picture, he noticed my Millennium Falcon shirt and gave me a big thumbs up.

But, besides the “official” character meets, you also have the opportunity to meet up with some Jawas.   The Jawas don’t have a photopass photographer, so you have to be ready with your own camera, but they have really neat interactions, some of my favorite in all of the parks actually.  In the picture above, my daughter offered them a trade (some “gems”).  They consulted with each other to decide if it was a worthy trade, then offered her a small toy in return.  It was really, really cute and something you should definitely try if you get the chance.

Before you leave the Launch Bay, be sure to check out the Cargo area to see various Star Wars memorabilia, and even take some home if you are so inclined.  You can also design and purchase your own Star Wars phone case as well (my daughter may have begged for a Rey phone case, despite not having a phone).

If you’re a Star Wars fan, the Star Wars Launch Bay is a must-do!

The Best and Worst Times to Visit Walt Disney World in 2018

Time and experience have made making this yearly crowd calendar a bit easier each year.  I’ve compiled information based on Walt Disney World events, marathons, holidays and many of the major school district calendars from around the country to put together estimated crowd levels for the entirety of 2018.

I will note, I have, for the most part, marked each weekend as “yellow” or medium crowd levels because you will see an influx of locals during the weekend most of the time.  I’ve noticed over the years there are fewer and fewer “green” or low crowd level times of the year as Disney introduces more events, discounts and other enticements to fill their resorts and parks.  You can expect an influx of crowds in Animal Kingdom in particular, as Pandora: The World of Avatar will have just opened in 2017.  I expect, if Disney stays on track with the summer 2018 opening of Toy Story Land, that crowds will surge even more in the summer months.

Red = high crowd levels expected

Yellow = moderate crowd levels expected

Green = lower crowd levels expected

Downloadable PDF version  2018 WDW Crowd Calendar

A good rule of thumb, if your kids are out of school, most other children in the country are as well and you can expect high crowds, especially look out for Spring break and Winter break. Christmas and New Year’s have the highest crowd levels of the entire year.  However, it is not impossible to visit and have a great time during a “red” period, just make sure you are planning accordingly.  Check out my post about navigating busy times to give you some tips on making the most of your Disney Vacation during particularly busy times.

Also, be sure to look at the pros and cons of each month in Walt Disney World

Attraction Spotlight: Casey Jr. Splash ‘N’ Soak Station

My kids beg to play here on every trip!  The Casey Jr. Splash ‘N’ Soak play area is located in Fantasyland near the train station and Barnstormer.  The Barnstormer is one of my kids absolute favorite rides, so we’re there often and as we pass by this play area, they always ask to go play.  It’s such a cute little area, and a great place for kids to cool off (if you don’t mind them getting soaking, and I mean SOAKING wet) and for parents to rest.  There’s plenty of seating in the form of rock walls surrounding the area to rest your feet while the little ones play. 

The characters around the station randomly spurt water into the play area for even more fun.  Featuring camels, monkeys and elephants, it’s a delightful and whimsical break in your day.

It’s easy to walk on by on your way from attraction to attraction, but do yourself a favor and take a pit stop next time you’re in the Magic Kingdom for a little wet and wild fun!

Top 5 Walt Disney World Quick Service Restaurants

One of the best things about planning Disney World trips is deciding where we are going to eat on that trip.  Have I mentioned that I love food?  As we are often looking for a quick bite, more often than not we are looking for a quick service restaurant.  I typically plan one table service meal per day as our plans allow, but for the rest of the time we are hitting a quick service on the way to our next Fastpass.  Below, I’ve listed my top 5 favorite quick service restaurants.  Obviously, I haven’t eaten at every single quick service available, but I’ve sampled a good many.

Sleepy Hollow – Magic Kingdom

I feel like I may have talked your ears off about this place, but I’m just so in love with it.  It’s a must-do for me and my family.  I particularly like it for breakfast as the fruit and Nutella waffle.  Okay, I’m downplaying that a bit, I really, really, really love that waffle.  I’m sure Sleepy Hollow has other great offerings, but it tops this list just for that fruit and Nutella waffle.

Also, it has pretty great seating.  Just to the side is a covered area with picnic tables and smaller tables.  The view is just to the side of Cinderella Castle and if you catch it during the Castle Show (currently Mickey’s Friendship Faire) you can see a great side view in addition to  watching the character performers move from the stage to backstage.

Friar’s Nook – Magic Kingdom

The Friar’s Nook is located in Fantasyland, just on the backside of Cinderella Castle.  The Friar’s Nook’s offerings are fairly slim, ranging from a hotdog and fries, carrot cake and hummus to it’s real specialty – macaroni and cheese.  The macaroni and cheese here is to die for, but the claim to fame is the seasonal toppings.  It can range from barbecue, to chicken, to pot roast, but it’s all amazing.  It’s also quite filling.  While not quite shareable, one serving is still plenty to tide you over until the next meal.

The seating here is also good.  Covered tables are available to the right of the restaurant and are in the perfect location to people watch.

La Cantina de San Angel – Epcot, Mexican Pavilion

My personal favorite quick service in Epcot, maybe just because I really love Mexican food.  I first tried this restaurant on my “eat around the world” challenge last summer.  My husband and I split the empanadas and they were just SO good.  La Cantina de San Angel’s menu also includes tacos, nachos, salad and churros.  I also love the seating here, as it is also covered (a rarity in the World Showcase) and you can look out over the water while you enjoy your meal.

Hollywood Brown Derby Lounge – Hollywood Studios

Located just outside the Hollywood Brown Derby proper, the lounge is a perfect spot to grab a quick bite, dessert or a drink while you people watch at Hollywood Studios.  We find it to be very casual, easygoing and relaxing.  Not exactly covered, but the umbrellas above the table provide nice shade in the hot afternoon sun.  If you pick a table with a fairly unobstructed view of the stage in front of The Great Movie Ride, you may get a nice view of the March of the First Order or the other stage shows throughout the day.

I will add here that the Disney Dining Plan is not accepted at this location, so just be conscious of that if you typically use the dining plan.

Flame Tree Barbecue – Animal Kingdom

Courtesy Bill Iadonisi

I’m clearly a sucker for comfortable, covered seating areas, if you hadn’t noticed the theme of this post already.  Besides that, the food options here at Animal Kingdom really can’t be beat by other quick service options.  I’ve already mentioned there are sharable items here that will help save you a little cash, but it is all just so good.  If you like BBQ that is (are there people that don’t?).  Now, I’m actually a little strange, in that I don’t eat meat off of a bone (it stems from a very strange encounter on a farm when I was young), so the traditional fare here doesn’t appeal to me at all, however a turkey sandwich or a salad sound pretty great all the time.

Runner up:  Be Our Guest (lunch), Magic Kingdom

I didn’t want to include yet another Magic Kingdom quick service, and I’ve already written a review of the lunch service here, but it’s hard to not mention Be Our Guest.  Unique, in that it is a quick service only for breakfast and lunch, the seating is all indoors and is GORGEOUS.  The food for lunch is pretty darn good too.  However, don’t think it’s like most other quick services, you must make a reservation in advance, or you’ll have little luck getting in.

I want to know, what are your favorite quick service picks in Walt Disney World?

 

Attraction Spotlight: Soarin’ Around the World

When people ask what my favorite attraction is in Disney World, I have a really hard time answering, but Soarin’ is definitely on that short list.  I loved Soarin’ Around California, and having had the opportunity to visit Soarin’ Around the World, I love it just as much.  Since it’s re-do, the attraction video is much clearer, and it’s truly an amazing sight to behold.  I still get giddy (with ridiculous grin to match) when I feel the seats rise in the air and the reel begins.  I honestly don’t think I can choose a favorite location.

Soarin’ is located in The Land in Future World of Epcot.  It is a Tier 1 attraction, meaning if you choose to Fastpass+ this ride, you will be foregoing Fastpass+ reservations for other big-ticket Epcot attractions, such as Frozen Ever After.  Personally, if you aren’t on the Frozen train, I would most likely choose Soarin’ as my Fastpass+ reservation.  Depending on the time of year you visit, and crowd levels, the lines can get pretty lengthy.  I’ve seen wait times range from 20 minutes to over 3 hours.  If you aren’t able to get a Fastpass+, or you can’t avoid the Frozen fever, head straight there at park opening when lines are less likely to have built up.

From the Disney website:

Depart on an all-new journey through the sky, flying high from one extraordinary landmark to the next. It’s Soarin’ Around the World!

An Exhilarating International Adventure
Through the bright lights and glowing halls of a newly designed concourse awaits a tour like no other. Passengers, prepare for liftoff—you’re about to visit some of the planet’s most awe-inspiring destinations!

No mountain is too high. No landscape is too far. Whether you’re soaring above man-made marvels like the majestic Great Wall of China, cruising over natural sights like Iguazu Falls in South America or swooping past sailboats on Australia’s spectacular Sydney Harbour, this is your chance to experience the joy of hang gliding as you never have before.

So get ready—and strap yourselves in for this epic re-imagining of a beloved Future World attraction!

Live the Dream of Flying
In the grand Disney tradition, Imagineers pulled out all the stops to make fantasy reality, bringing the feeling of flight to life using a 180-degree, 80-foot IMAX projection dome and aerially captured footage that simulates the graceful motion of a hang glider.

Spectacular new digital projection technology lifts the sensation to new heights of brilliance. Thrill as you’re raised 40 feet in the air, engulfed in the stunning panoramas and swept from one scenic locale to the next!

Patrick Warburton (known for too many projects to name, but will always be Kronk from The Emperor’s New Groove”  to me) continues to direct your pre-flight instructions.  Disney pro-tip:  Request Concourse B if they aren’t too busy.  It’s directly in the center, so the video won’t be altered by the curved screen.  Also, try to get Row 1 to avoid other passengers feet in your view.

Do you love the new Soarin’ or do you prefer the original?  Let me know in the comments!